Human beings possess an "innate vocation to peace," Pope Benedict XVI observed in his World Day of Peace message on Jan. 1.
But our peacemaking efforts are doomed if we fail to understand that what we seek is not merely the absence of conflict. The Pope defines peace much more positively as "the building up of coexistence in rational and moral terms, based on a foundation whose measure is not created by man, but rather by God."
At the close of a tumultuous year punctuated by the Arab Spring uprisings, the assassination of a U.S. ambassador, growing religious persecution, Iran’s nuclear brinksmanship and financial instability across the globe, the Holy Father acknowledged the desperate need for peace in our time.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God" (Matthew 5:9), he said, repeating the exhortation of Jesus Christ and noting that the Savior’s "promise" should give all believers hope that God will hear their prayers and reward their efforts to secure peace in their own families and communities.
Indeed, last September, the Pope risked his own life to promote the cause for peace, proceeding with his planned visit to Lebanon despite concerns that regional tensions — reportedly sparked by a video defaming Mohammed, the founder of Islam — had made the trip too dangerous.
Asked if he had considered canceling the trip, he dismissed the idea, telling reporters that "the more complicated a situation becomes, the more necessary it is to send this signal of fraternity, encouragement and solidarity."
During his mission to Lebanon, he encouraged a negotiated solution to the escalating civil war in Syria, spoke out against religious fundamentalism, defended the rights of Christians and offered cautious support for the Arab Spring.
"I would say it’s a positive thing: It’s the desire for more democracy, more liberty, more cooperation and a renewed Arab identity," Benedict said during a Sept. 14 press conference on the flight to Lebanon, but "there is always a danger of forgetting a fundamental aspect of liberty: tolerance for others and the fact that human liberty is always a shared liberty."
Benedict’s Jan. 1 message makes it clear that he never ventures forth into the world alone; rather, his hope comes from the Lord.
"The blessedness of which the beatitudes speak consists in the fulfillment of a promise made to all those who allow themselves to be guided by the requirements of truth, justice and love.
"In the eyes of the world, those who trust in God and his promises often appear naive or far from reality. Yet Jesus tells them that not only in the next life, but already in this life, they will discover that they are children of God and that God has always been, and ever will be, completely on their side.
"They will understand that they are not alone, because he is on the side of those committed to truth, justice and love."
As he has done continuously throughout his papacy, Pope Benedict again points to Jesus as the source of security and hope.
"Once we accept Jesus Christ, God and man, we have the joyful experience of an immense gift: the sharing of God’s own life, the life of grace, the pledge of a fully blessed existence. Jesus Christ, in particular, grants us true peace, which is born of the trusting encounter of man with God," he said.
While Benedict labors to bring the gift of Christ to a broken world, the peace of the beatitudes inspires our own efforts to be peacemakers in our families, communities and nation.
The 2012 presidential-election year underscored the fading hopes of Americans who believe that the days of upward mobility are over and that wealth redistribution is the only answer. Meanwhile, the "fiscal cliff" negotiations that resulted in a short-term deal, with hard decisions delayed for the next showdown, offered further evidence that our political system is failing to resolve partisan conflicts to secure the common good. Indeed, not only are we unable to agree on a budget or a plan for tackling our ballooning national debt, we are also engaged in contentious battles over the nature and definition of marriage and the relative importance of religious freedom, among other issues.
In his World Day of Peace message, Benedict suggests that some of these deepening conflicts reflect the corrosive impact of moral relativism and a hyper-individualism, which have attacked social and moral values that once defined the common good.
"Blessed," indeed, "are the peacemakers," with the patience, wisdom and courage necessary to bring forth solutions anchored in truth.
For some of us, the most stubborn conflicts arise in our own families; for others, bottom-line considerations in the workplace pose the greatest challenge.
Yet the Holy Father reminds us: "Peace is not a dream or something utopian; it is possible."
He encourages us to look deeper, "beneath superficial appearances and phenomena, to discern a positive reality which exists in human hearts, since every man is created in the image of God and is called to grow and contribute to the building of a new world."
"God himself, through the incarnation of his Son and his work of redemption, has entered into history and has brought about a new creation and a new covenant between God and man (Jeremiah 31:31-34), thus enabling us to have a ‘new heart’ and a ‘new spirit’" (Ezekiel 36:26).
At the start of this new year, let’s stay rooted in Christ’s peace and thus recommit to becoming peacemakers in our time.